How is Phoenix viewed and treated by the white people she meets in "A Worn Path"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Although the young hunter, a white man, helps Phoenix to right herself after she falls over, he calls her "Granny" repeatedly rather than ma'am or some other title that would show appropriate deference to her age. We often hear the adage that we ought to respect our elders, but he...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Although the young hunter, a white man, helps Phoenix to right herself after she falls over, he calls her "Granny" repeatedly rather than ma'am or some other title that would show appropriate deference to her age. We often hear the adage that we ought to respect our elders, but he does not do so because she is black and he is white. He also tells her "Now you go on home, Granny!" as though she is a child to be told what to do. He even points his gun at her, asking if she is scared by it. Not only is this disrespectful, but it is also cruel. One might assume that he would never treat an old white woman this way.

Later, the attendant in the doctor's office doesn't say hello or ask how she can help Phoenix. Instead, the woman simply says, "A charity case, I suppose." The woman has no patience with Phoenix, a very old woman, at all, ordering her to "Speak up" and even asking, "Are you deaf?" Again, Phoenix is spoken to as if she were a child to be ordered around. The nurse is the kindest white person Phoenix interacts with, but even she refers to Phoenix as "old Aunt Phoenix" and tries to "hush her" when Phoenix continues to talk. Again, this is something one might do to a child when they are upset. The attendant then offers Phoenix "a few pennies out of [her] purse," another action one might perform for a child. In general, whites seem to condescend to Phoenix at best and threaten her at worst.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Phoenix is treated as "less than" by the first white man she encounters. Despite helping her stand up and chase off a dog that was bothering her, the young man then points a gun at her and mocks her. The attendant refers to her as a "charity case" before she has even said a word and impatiently badgers her to speak before the nurse arrives. The nurse, though more kind, also forgoes asking her how she is doing and denies her an opportunity to speak. She states that Phoenix must not waste their time. During Phoenix's visit to the nurse, there is a lack of overall empathy toward her and her grandson's situation. There is no recognition of her age or her dignity. She is marked as a charity case for the medication she receives and is not offered any assistance as she leaves.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The way Phoenix is treated reflects the suble discrimination black people experience at the hands of society.  The hunter helps Phoenix out of a ditch but patronizes her, poking fun at her journey, taunting, "I know you old colored people...wouldn't miss a chance to...see Santa", and menacing her with his gun, flaunting his power and asking her if she is afraid. The nurse is impatient with her and assumes she is a charity case, condescendingly offering her a few pennies. The hunter calls Phoenix "Granny" and the nurse calls her "Aunt Phoenix" instead of "Mrs. Jackson", names which deny her dignity and individuality and show no deference to her age.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team